Tag: Album reviews

Album review: Yes Girl by Arna Georgia

unnamed-19In the long-ago days when live music was a thing, it was a treat to see Arna Georgia play live. She has a fantastic voice, clear and smooth, and performs with humour and heart. She’s the sort of performer whose set you never want to end. And you won’t want her debut album, Yes Girl, to end either, as she brings those qualities into the recording of ten songs, nine of them originals and one a cover of Delbert McClinton’s ‘Two More Bottles of Wine’.

It’s clear that Georgia loves traditional country music and song structure, yet doesn’t sound like she’s trying to be from another time or be another age. She’s a young woman, and her songs reflect her experiences, as they should. But she’s also a proper, pragmatic adult with a measured view of the world that doesn’t veer into or indulge in cynicism, or overplay emotion for the sake of it.

Yes Girl is, in subtle ways, a handbook for living. ‘1998’ is a song about grief but there’s no wallowing – in this way it becomes a song that could actually comfort someone who’s grieving. ‘Story for the Kids’ takes the long view on the missteps of life. ‘Passing Through’ gives us permission to not stay stuck.

The album was recorded with Nash Chambers in Nashville, and while Georgia no doubt benefited from Chambers’s experienced hand, these are her songs and each is a carefully crafted, intriguing story that takes the listener on a journey then carries them on to the next. You can savour each short journey or take the whole trip, but what’s for certain is that you’ll want to travel that road over and over again.

Yes Girl is out now.

Apple Music | iTunes



Album review: Lion Side by Jasmine Rae

JR-LoinSide-CoverFINAL3-sRGBThe first definite signal that Jasmine Rae’s new album, Lion Side, was not going to be like her previous albums was her most recent single, ‘Don’t Do it for the Haters’. A response to an episode in Rae’s recent past when she was the target of some online vitriol, it gave new context to the previous single, ‘Green Light’, which sees Rae questioning herself, about many things.

Once the album arrived the total picture became spectacularly clear. The title track is Rae’s announcement of just who she has become in the five years since her last album, Heartbeat. The song sounds deceptively light: it’s not a rock ‘n’ roll roar. But Rae’s intent is in her vocal delivery. She is one of the most powerful singers around, not just because of the strength of her voice but her tone and command. There’s not a nook or cranny of her voice that she’s not in command of – command being different to control. A controlled performance would be one in which Rae gives us not much of herself. The commanding performances on Lion Side are the result of her decision to share a lot of herself, with all the vulnerabilities and pain and doubt that might involve, from what’s on ‘Green Light’ to the contents of the third track, ‘Fraudulent’.

The first four songs seem to be Rae working through the past, and everything she’s learnt from it; after that point her heart bursts wide open – as she telegraphed in ‘Don’t Do it for the Haters’ when she sings that she doesn’t do it for the haters because ‘it’s the love that does it for me’. We go from that song into the beautiful ‘Jessica’, co-written with Lyn Bowtell, who knows her way around a heartbreaking song. This sounds like one kind of song of love and loss and becomes something else: a gentle rebuke. It’s not the only song on the album in which Rae gives us a sleight of hand (or lyric) – ‘Party on the Couch’ has a title that suggests it could be in the established country music party-song tradition, and musically it could fit there, yet really it’s been inspired the fact that Rae was spending a lot of time at home, literally on the couch.

Rae wrote or co-wrote all of the tracks on the album. Seventh track ‘Love Is’ is hers alone and was begun years ago. It is devastating and memorable, as is the tenth and last track, ‘Carrying the Flame’, a tribute to a departed mentor. The answer to ‘Green Light’ comes in track eight, ‘Right Now’, in which Rae has no qualms issuing the recommendation to ‘just do whatever makes you feel better’ – no judgements about what that may be. Because perhaps, finally, Rae has stopped judging herself.

In Rae’s decision to let love guide her work and her actions, she has offered fans a gift: an extraordinary album which is infused with love and the prices we can pay for it – grief, confusion, loneliness, despair. In the end, though, the message is that it’s worth it. Rae emerges on this album as the heroine we didn’t know we needed, not because she set out to be but because she didn’t. She set out to create songs that people would love. She has achieved that, and so much more.

Lion Side is out now through ABC Music/Universal Music Australia.

Signed albums available at www.jasminerae.com

Apple Music | JB Hi-Fi | Sanity








Album review: Come On, Fly by Lucille

Lucille_RAW_Proofs-0024-1_2With the release of her debut single, ‘The Killing Season’, Melbourne singer-songwriter Lucille announced herself as an artist who is willing to take inspiration from what could be considered non-traditional sources – in this case, the implosion of the federal ALP while in government – to craft a powerful song. Her second single, ‘Kerikeri’, was quite different: it was an ode to her childhood in New Zealand. By that point it was clear that Lucille was not going to follow a safe path, not that anything in her background suggested she would. Raised in a musical environment, music seems to have seeped into her marrow and she is an artist who is intensely instinctual and also incredibly talented. By developing considerable skills over time she is able to draw on what’s fundamental to her and express it to a broader audience.

Lucille’s debut album, Come On, Fly, has influences from country, rock, pop and folk. This is because Lucille knows a range of genres intimately and will draw on what is necessary for the song. That’s how we come to have an album that doesn’t fit into one slot but which has a distinct identity: Lucille’s. Lucille is sure of what she wants to present to her audience – there is not a moment of hesitation on this album – and the result is a mature, rich work.

Each song on Come On, Fly is complete and contained because Lucille is a highly articulate lyricist: she will give us the beginning, middle and end of a story in each song, so we have a sense as each song ends that we’ve been taken on a journey, and we can stop there or move on. In that way the album is like a collection of short stories. And, as with a collection of stories, we are offered a range of experiences and emotions. Come On, Fly is an emotional album, and that is telegraphed on the first track, which is the title song. There are turns Lucille’s voice takes in that song that will break your heart and also make it soar. This is an experience you’ll have again and again throughout the album. This makes it an experience to be savoured; because it is intriguing and layered you will immediately want to turn around and savour it all over again.

Come On, Fly is out now.

Apple Music | iTunes




EP review: Need a Ride? by Wagons

PackshotThe music of Henry Wagons – released under the moniker Wagons – has been described as psychedelic country, and certainly that is the easy label. There are recognisable elements of country music and there are spacey psychedelic elements suggestive of David Bowie, amongst others. So that term describes the style of music you can expect to find on Wagons’s new EP, Need a Ride? But it does not describe the experience of listening to it, which is, bluntly, this: with that voice, Wagons could ask you to rob a bank and you’d probably consider it, and possibly even do it.

Wagons has a baritone that is not so much hypnotic as compelling. You don’t lose reason – as the bank-robbing notion might suggest – so much as want to be taken wherever he’s going. Wagons is a rock star who is not playing rock music in the traditional sense (although there are certainly rock influences on the EP) but his appeal is not about rock-star swagger so much as swashbuckling.

His musical accompaniment on this EP is sophisticated, layered and worthy of consideration separate to whatever he does with the vocals. But his vocals are at the centre of the vortex created by the instruments – and you are drawn inexorably to that centre.

Wagons is confident with his instrument, enough to take his time on the last track, ‘Brand New Place’ – to give the lyrics the weight they need – and also to belt it out on fourth track  ‘Flotation Man’. Confidence in any performer is a gift for the listener, because it means we can relax. Wagons is doing the work for us, inviting us to step on board a five-track ride – the title of the EP even makes this explicit – while he takes the wheel. It’s one hell of a trip. Strap yourself in and enjoy it.

Apple Music | iTunes


Album review: Gaslighter by The Chicks

THE-CHICKS_Gaslighter_Album-Cover_FinalNatalie Maines, the lead singer of The Chicks (formerly The Dixie Chicks), has never resiled from showing us what is on her mind and in her heart. Her voice is an instrument of truth in that whatever she’s feeling can be heard in it. Either she recognised early on that it would be like that or she decided that that’s how it would be, but it has to have shaped the songs The Chicks write – and that means her bandmates, Martie Maguire and Emily Strayer, have to commit to the truth as well.

The Chicks’ last studio release, 2006’s Taking the Long Way, was written and recorded in the wake of Maine daring to express an opinion onstage when apparently she was meant to ‘shut up and sing’. The Chicks were ‘cancelled’ before that verb was used in that way, and their response was to come roaring out with an album that was not only their best but which reaffirmed that they were a trio of talent, skill and passion, united in their vision. They showed their work, and it was phenomenal. ‘Not Ready to Make Nice’ remains one of the best, most articulate cries of defiance in modern culture, Maines’s exhortation to herself to not do what was expected of her – to make nice – and, in the process, telling her audience it’s all right if they don’t want to make nice either.

It is clear on their new album, Gaslighter, that they are still not ready to make nice – actually, they will never be – and we are all the beneficiaries of that. This album is also a cry of defiance and, as with Taking the Long Way, The Chicks are not pretending its context is something other than what all their fans know it to be: in this case, the end of Maines’s marriage.

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EP review: Feels Like Travelling Home by Corn Nut Creek

2fdf25_84f2c886bb174b83aafcc7972ac6401d~mv2Corn Nut Creek is a duo made up of very fine musicians and singers Tanya Bradley and Danielle Vita. Melbourne-based Bradley met Sydney-based, New York native Danielle Vita nine years ago in Hong Kong, where they played together as part of folk orchestra the Dulcet Tone Collective. They discovered a mutual love of bluegrass music and since then have been writing and performing together.

Feels Like Travelling Home is their first EP and features the duo’s key instruments of fiddle (Vita) and banjo (Bradley), and their complementary and contrasting vocals. The five tracks draw on traditions of bluegrass, Americana and folk, and form an often lively collection of tunes that will greatly please aficionados of those traditions as well as appealing to newcomers.

Instrumental track ‘Chicken in the Kitchen/Harper & Louis’ is as much fun as the title suggests. Some of the songs, such as the sublime ‘Baby Blue’, recount experiences of new motherhood. All five tracks are infused with the duo’s expertise, and with love – it is clear that they love what they are doing because there is a lightness to the vocals that doesn’t suggest the lyrics aren’t serious (because they can be) so much as indicating that Bradley and Vita are in the right place at the right time, doing what brings them joy.


Apple Music

Album review: With a Bullet Between My Teeth by Amber Rae Slade

a4276077920_16There isn’t much in the way of biographical information available online for singer-songwriter Amber Rae Slade, except that she was born in Detroit, Michigan to a musical family and now lives in Sydney (New South Wales). Knowing more about her wouldn’t necessarily affect how one listens to her music – it’s just nice to know – but not knowing more about her does mean that we can presume that everything she wants us to know is in her music.

With a Bullet Between My Teeth is Slade’s new album. It was produced, engineered, and mixed by Matt Fell, with additional engineering by Shane Nicholson and mastered by Michael Carpenter. So there are heavyweights involved with this album, and no doubt they’ve made great contributions – Fell plays most of the instruments in addition to his other roles – but the album is exceptional because of the songs and the singer.

Slade has a voice that is earthy and edgy, passionate and knowing. By subtly shifting tone she can implore or dictate or confide, and thereby indicates that she is giving us a panoply of experiences in these songs, all of which but one (‘Betty Was Black (& Willie Was White)’) were written by her. It seems like a road album, not least because it feels like Slade is in constant motion, sometimes urgent, looking round the next corner and ahead to the next wide open space, hungry for experiences but stopping sometimes to reflect and document them. It’s also a rollicking ride, and if you sit back and absorb the songs in turn, it really does feel like the rhythms of the songs mimic the rhythms of travelling through a diverse landscape: up hill and down dale, through forests and deserts.

So if Slade wants us to learn about her from her songs, what we can take away is this: she has things to tell us, and they’ll be things we want to hear, and we have to trust her enough to give her the time to tell us. That also means she has to be able to trust us. The performer and their audience is, after all, a relationship. And With a Bullet Between My Teeth is definitely a relationship, not a flirtation. It’s a commitment, not because it’s hard work but because Slade pulls us close and when an artist pays the audience that compliment we had better respect it. The reward is 11 songs that are constantly rewarding and often rapturous.

With a Bullet Between My Teeth is only available on Bandcamp. Pay whatever you want from as little as $1. Half of all proceeds go to the Women’s and Girls’ Emergency Centre in Redfern. 


Album review: Seasons by The New Graces

a0139668036_10When a band is made up of performers who have been in other bands or had solo releases, it’s tempting to say that the new entity is ‘more than the sum of its parts’, as if that new entity has conjured some kind of magic that wasn’t there in previous efforts. In the case of The New Graces and its members – Melanie Horsnell, Kate Burke and Robyn Martin – the sum is just as extraordinary as its parts would suggest.

Horsnell has released over ten albums, written songs with artists such as Catherine Britt and Wendy Matthews, and written music for film and television. Burke is a multi-instrumentalist and singer who has been in a folk duo and and Irish/Australian traditional band, and also works as a scientist and science communicator. Martin started playing bass at age 13 in the family band, and since then has played in many festivals, and with other artists. Individually their pedigrees are excellent, and combined they have almost immediately become a powerful force in Australian country and folk music, with the release of The New Graces’ first album, Seasons.

Lead vocal duties are shared across the twelve songs, with the other two singers contributing harmonies that enrich each song, bringing complexity and, often, robustness. These are songs with earth under their fingernails, lyrically and musically; songs of lives well and deeply lived, of land loved, of heartbreaks and wonders. These are the sorts of songs you’d hope to eventuate when three artists like this come together to create something new, but of course there’s no formula for joy – and listening to this album is truly a joyous experience, every single time.

While some works of art offer escape from the world, this album holds up real life and says: You can’t escape it, but there’s beauty here and we’ll show you. A lot of that beauty is in the execution of the songs: the way each singer understands what to offer to the song, either as the lead or in harmony; the ease with which they work together, the sort of ease that only comes from years of work; the fact that the songs are reassuring yet can also tilt you off your axis. Although the harmonies are glorious, this is actually not an album to make you comfortable. It wants to bring the listener close, and ask them to get inside the stories that are offered, to feel everything the singers feel. That makes for a whole-body and whole-heart experience, and one that can’t help leaving you wanting more, hoping there’s another album not far away – or even, one dares to hope, the chance to see The New Graces perform in person.

Buy the CD, vinyl or digital album from Bandcamp.

Apple Music | iTunes




EP review: Are You Listening? by Mama Kin Spender

MKS-CENTRAL IMAGEAfter listening to the new Mama Kin Spender EP, Are You Listening?, several times, the word that keeps coming up is this: sorcery. It is sorcery. ‘Bewitching’ isn’t strong enough to describe the effect of the combined talents of Danielle Caruana (Mama Kin) and Tommy Spender. There are four tracks on this EP – ‘What’s Wrong With Me?’ was the first single – which each have distinct identities and sounds, but the effect of all four together is to hold the listener completely entranced.

Sorcery needs work, of course – you can’t cast a spell without knowing what you’re doing – and each song is so mindfully crafted that Caruana and Spender have clearly put in the work, separately and together. They have known each other for twenty years, and that connection with and knowledge of each other doesn’t mean they’re coasting here: instead, they seem to use their familiarity to reach into themselves and each other to pull out secrets and truths.

‘What’s Wrong With Me?’ is the opening track and it never loses its power no matter how many times you listen to it. Second track ‘Eye of the Storm’ uses instruments and vocals to gloriously evoke the unease of being in the eye.

They employ layered vocals in ‘Blue Belle’ to almost literally cause a rumble in the belly, and a pull of almost primal recognition (the acoustic version of ‘Blue Belle’ has its premiere here: see the video below).


The last track, ‘The Road’, opens up sonically to suggest freedom and mystery. Caruana and Spender share the lead vocals, each urging the other on down the road.

This is a gutsy, emotional, strong, passionate collection of songs that truly feel like they are written and performed from the heart, and, therefore, reach into the heart of the listener. They’re challenging because there’s nowhere for the listener to hide here – Caruana and Spender are asking as much honesty of the listener as they have offered themselves. This is not music for a lazy afternoon. It’s for shouting at the moon and digging into the earth. And it may only be four songs long but there’s such a range of experiences in those four that you feel as though you’ve been on a complete journey: of being alive, of being human, of not resiling from all the experiences life has to throw at and offer you. It’s not an EP for the faint of heart or the lily livered. Gird your loins, gear up, and prepare to be present – Mama Kin Spender have done all of that, and more, and that’s the only fitting way to receive what they offer here.

Are You Listening? is out now.

Listen on:

Apple Music | iTunes




Album review: Speed of Life by Adam Brand

unnamed (9)The direction of Adam Brand’s new album, Speed of Life, was telegraphed when he released the single ‘Life’s Been Good to Me’ last year. This was Brand in laidback mode, grateful for the good things in life and philosophical about the bad. He followed it with ‘Freakin’ Weekend’, which was more in the style of his earlier energetic work – and which was an indication to his longtime fans that he had not forgotten them. But Fly is very definitely the work of a more mellow Brand.

Recorded before the birth of his daughter, with Luke Wooten (who has worked with Brad Paisley and Dierks Bentley) as producer, Speed of Life could be described as a feel-good album, because it does leave you feeling good, but that’s also a fairly pat description for something that is another evolution in sound and style for Brand. On his 2017 album, Get On Your Feet, Brand sounded more confident than he had in the past – more centred, and also more relaxed in himself. Certainly someone who has entertained as many people as he has should feel confident, but there is often a difference – in courage as well as skill – between performing live to large crowds and standing alone in a sound booth recording vocals. In the latter experience it can be a lot harder to hide, and thus the performer is more vulnerable. In Get On Your Feet Brand had the courage to lead with his heart, and start to be vulnerable, and this is the evolution he’s continued on Speed of Life.

This latest album is absolutely heartfelt, and a lot of the songs are about connections – of life and love, and not necessarily romantic. There is a prayer for the future in ‘Fly’, and encouragement for the forlorn in the powerful ‘You Are Not Alone’, a duet with Casey Donovan. In ‘Don’t Wanna Let You Down’ there is Brand stepping into his new roles in life and hoping he gets them right.

One of the things Brand has done consistently throughout his career is to give his audience what they need as well as what they want. This latest album probably tips more to the former – his fans may want, or think they want, the rowdier Brand of the past, but right now they probably need the Brand who is prepared to put his heart and soul on the line to bring them an album that will make them smile, and also bring a tear, and overall leave them feeling just about as right with the world as he does. That’s not to say this album isn’t loud – in parts it is – so there is still the option for it to be a party soundtrack (once parties are allowed again). But it’s also an album worth savouring – the fruit of Brand having a relationship with his fans for many years, and being able to read them and give them something just right.

Speed of Life is out now through ABC Music/Universal Music Australia.

Listen on/buy from:

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